My marriage has ended.
I feel like I can finally breathe putting this out here in my small corner of the internet…. while at the same time I feel suffocated from what I expect to be some people’s reactions, assumptions, criticism, and responses…for all parties involved.
I like the idea of not saying anything — on the internet anyways — and allowing the fact that I was married for six years just slip quietly away into the archives of the internet.
Up to this date, the internet tells a story that I got married right after I turned 19 to a Bible College Graduate I had not even known for an entire year. We dated long distance and it was whimsical and fairytale-esc with hand written letters and surprise visits. It was all just so meant to be. I was barely out of my teenage years when I began appearing to build the happiest kind of marriage until some undefined moment six years later when photos of the man, who was my husband, became fewer and farther between until they completely disappeared. You’d see comments on photos asking if he was the man behind the camera, asking how he supports me through such a difficult time, asking where he is, and then eventually, hopefully, those comments would disappear. The end. [vwm]
But the questions in the comment sections and my inboxes keep coming, “Where is your husband? Is he the man behind the camera? How does your husband support you through your pain? How is your husband grieving the many losses you’ve encountered this year? Why don’t you post photos of him anymore? WHERE IS HE?” [vwm]
I very, very much value honesty.
Which means that when I became a single mom shortly after our sixth wedding anniversary this year, I have struggled to figure out when and what to tell you about the death of my marriage. I am no celebrity, but I do have thousands of people following my life + writing + photos online. I have people recognize me at Costco, who know all about what I share online. I have eyes everywhere and it has been a wrestling of sorts to wonder: have I now lost all credibility due to the title divorcee?
Since the day my children’s dad moved out, I have not kept it a secret that we were separated and filing for divorce. It was incredibly difficult for me to tell people, I felt humiliated and degraded and was hurt very much in the process...but it wasn’t a secret. I did feel shame but I no longer (constantly) do. I am learning how to be very open with my in-person, real life community and have been operating in that painful yet hopeful way since August.
I have always loved Anne Lammot’s book, Bird by Bird, and I especially am grateful for this quote: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
It’s that thing of walking the tension of sharing the broken truth of what our marriage was, while also being honoring to the human lives involved. I don’t see my children’s father as my enemy or as someone I want vengeance against...I see pretty damn clearly that he is broken and has deep wounds like the rest of us, bleeding all over everyone else. But out of those wounds we get to decide how to live our life, and I have come to the point where I believe certain lines shouldn’t be crossed in marriage. And some damage simply cannot be undone here on earth. Even in marriage. Even as a Christian.
My marriage has been dead for too long, really. Not that I need your approval, but I feel you would be proud of the effort and work I put into giving it CPR. If you knew the prayers I prayed, the journals I filled, the help I asked for, the therapy I did, the help I suggested and sought, the days I fasted...you would be confident with me that it is past time to say The End, It’s Time To Seek Deep Healing. [vwm]. I’m also not about to pretend I had nothing to do with its death. It takes two to tango, it takes two to build a marriage, it takes two to destroy a marriage. It takes two. I am not faultless. I am not blameless.
So...shortly after our sixth wedding anniversary, I gained my newest title: single mom of five, headed for divorce. The death of my life as I knew it.
I was saying goodbye to the future I was sure would unfold exactly how I planned it — which included a daughter I had prayed specifically for — and the only thing I saw written all over my story was Divorced Single Mom, sort of as the concluding “The End.” I could not see past that unexpected horror. I was sure I would never get to the other side of the all-consuming darkness, and I am definitely one to believe there is always light on the other side.
But this...this was dark.
As I walked through the first days and weeks of separating — mind you I had five kids at the time, three of which were ages 2, 2, and 1 — it felt like I was walking through fire. I will never forget the first Sunday at church after I slept in my house as the only adult, standing in the front row like I do...I was weak. Nauseous. Sleepless. Exhausted. Depleted.
All I could see was fire. I was standing in the fire of my life and all I could see was Jesus’s brown hand holding mine.
I was sure within a week’s time I would be walking my two tender, toddler boys through not only their parents splitting, but also goodbye to all three sisters. And with those losses, the dream house we had just moved into. Our car was just totaled by an uninsured drunk driver. It felt like I was carrying the life I had carefully curated and throwing it into a dumpster fire in the center of a tornado.
Fire. I was in the fires of Hell on earth.
But Jesus never left me.
When I naively stood at an altar six years ago, I was confident I was jumping into a life of rewriting what I knew to be true of family life and marriage. I was eager to cut generational bondage, rebuild generational ruins, repair damages done through dysfunction, and help create a new legacy for generations to come.
Divorce was a term never thrown around in our marriage, never used as a threat, not even something to be considered. I knew that I knew that remaining married to one man no matter what was what I needed to do in order to restore the generational brokenness of divorce, dysfunction, abuse, adultery. There was no other way to change the tides — of that I was certain.
To my understanding, no one gets married expecting to have it end before death does them part. I knew it happened to other people, but it would never happen to me.
I even joined in on those bible college peer conversations, snickering sadly at the fallen pastors and youth pastors whose marriages somehow crumbled — woe is them, for that will never be my story, they couldn’t even give it more than a few years...weakness. What even is the vow to them? Clearly not sacred.
Woe is me, for putting the vow above all else, for deeming it not only sacred but an idol. For worshipping it, and my role in it, for not taking it seriously or giving it the test of time it deserves before making it, and for allowing such toxicity to fold itself deeply into my marriage.
(And then not so) Suddenly the life I was working so hard to create — working so hard to make real and believe into existence — came crashing down on top of all seven of us. Plus, you know, all the other people we know.
So many hearts to break.
So many hearts to disappoint.
Until I sought counsel from three different mentors — who are much older, wiser, and experienced than I —, I was slowly suffocating below the weight of somehow undoing detrimental damage done. Because even murder is a better option than divorce, I’ve been told.
The life I wanted to believe was real was suddenly dismantled by reality. Wrecked and halted by years of hidden trauma.
The level we can deceive even ourselves astounds me.
It’s quite an experience to wake up to the nightmare you were sure you could not wake up to. Because...then what? But as I was asleep, I was slowly dying a miserable, numbing death. There was no other way to survive but to slowly allow myself to die.
One moment I was existing in a fog, a bit blinded by ignorant hope and blissful thinking, eager attempts to fix all the things I was failing my family for….and the next moment the puzzle pieces slammed together in my brain waking me up. There was no going back to sleep.
The fire was lit. Our life as we knew it was on its deathbed.
And no. No it’s not any of my kids fault. To even ask this or imply this as an assumption is a sure way to be put on my You’re Not Safe list. To place blame on children for their parent’s dysfunction — which began years before they entered the story — is evil, immoral, and gross. (I only have a few big feelings about this, clearly).
I am writing this blog post as a public entry into a life I could have never expected.
I see that there is no such thing as “starting over,” but there is such a thing as moving onward the best you can with what you have. What I have seems pretty shattered everywhere, but I have a community helping us carry the pieces.
I believe that even in the midst of such pain as this, I can still walk with integrity and dignity, self-respect and respect for others, kindness and confidence. Even love for the one I chose to end a marriage to. Because at the end of the day, we can all choose the kind of love that exhibits patience and kindness, lacking in rudeness…towards others and ourselves.
I won’t be sharing the gory details of What In The World Happened To The Brenners, but you can rest assured that I still love Jesus just as fiercely — if not more so — than I did before my marriage identity disintegrated.
We are not in this place simply because “marriage is hard.” I know marriage is hard, and that truth is how we made it a full six years — I clung to it with all I had.
I know that even on the other side of divorce — and through it — He has good for me, for him, and for our kids.
I didn’t want this to be my story.
I didn’t want to be the one to talk about separation and divorce in Christian circles, due to experience. I was more interested in letting you hear all the amazing Reconciled Still Married Through The Storm stories.
I didn’t want to be the one to walk through this and point to Jesus and tell you that I know He is still good, even when the boxes explode and our life suddenly looks unlike anything He would ever orchestrate or dump grace on.
Before, we looked a whole lot cuter. My autobiography and photos were much prettier and smoother and cookie-cutter.
Now, all the mess and broken is unavoidable.
But I guess the only way to the other side — to healing — is through all the broken pieces.
This isn’t going to be the pretty redemption story Christians love to tell and hear. But I do think it is a story that needs to be told and heard: that there can be grace and good, healing and reconciliation, through and on the other side of divorce. It just doesn’t look quite how we want it to.
But it’s not the end of the world or my life. I mean, yes, everything I knew is now forever altered. But isn’t that what He is best at? Making beauty from the darkest of ashes?
Over the years, I’ve seen people walk through divorce with kids and felt so sad they couldn’t hold on for their kids. I’ve watched people divorce who had kids they adopted...and I ached for those kids who already had lost. so. much. Part of me definitely looked down on them, felt they weren’t strong enough or something...but now I have a whole new lens because that’s what happens when we are forced into humility.
Sometimes divorce is the way of health and healing, when you’ve already given more than all you had in an attempt to bring healing and wholeness.
Be praying for each of us…all six of us. The grief is real and with grief comes…denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and at some point comes acceptance. I pray for each one of us on the daily and hope you’ll join me in those prayers.
So here I am, digging in to the deepest kind of healing a human can dig into. I am finding that so few humans do this work, and it’s really too bad.
I am laying out much of my mess, hoping to decrease shame and increase His name.
Praying to Jesus that through all of this wreckage, He can still use me to stop generational brokenness and turn the tides of true healing.
Follow along with thousands of others by not missing a single post — join me in my work towards stripping shame. I feel more confident than I did just a few months ago, that we are invited into a life without shame…even when our culture suggests otherwise. I will be sharing about what its been like to be a single mom of four, how community is the best gift He has given me, and maybe possibly other things.
Read Divorce, Death, and Resurrection by The Very Worst Missionary.
Jamie truly helped pave the way for my sharing.